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Last Updated on January 28, 2024 by Teemu Suomala

Master blues guitar chords and amp up your 12-bar game. Learn the 20% that creates 80% of the results. Play like a boss, with no fluff, just pure blues.

photo reveals owner of guitaristnextdoor.com

Author: Teemu Suomala

I first grabbed the guitar in 2009. I started this website in January 2020 because I couldn’t do window installation anymore due to my health problems. I love guitars and have played dozens and dozens of different guitars through different amps and pedals over the years, and also, building a website interested me, so I decided to just go for it! I got lucky and managed to get awesome people to help me with my website.

I also got lucky because I have you visiting my website right now. Thank you. I do all this for you guys. If you have any recommendations, tips, or feedback, just leave a comment, I would love to chat with you. I have also been fortunate to produce content for several large guitar websites, such as SongsterrMusicnotesGuitarGuitar, and Ultimate Guitar.

I spend my spare time exercising and hanging out with my wife and crazy dog (I guess that went the right way…).

Strapping on your guitar after a hard day’s work, you’re ready to let the music take away the day’s stress. And what better way to do that than by diving into the world of blues guitar chords?

Well, most guides are death-boring, but this one isn’t. And it takes only about 12 minutes to read on average. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

Dominant 7th: The Blues Backbone

Now, let’s talk about the dominant 7th chords – the backbone of the blues. These aren’t just any chords; they’re the ones that give blues music its signature sound, like the smoky flavor in a good whiskey. Dominant 7th chords have a certain twang, a gritty edge that makes you feel every note in your soul.

Each chord in a traditional blues progression is typically a dominant 7th, giving the music its characteristic tension and release. And the beauty of these chords? They’re like the Swiss Army knife in your blues toolbox. Once you’ve got these bad boys down, you can play a 12-bar blues progression in any key, on any porch, and maybe even win the respect of your dog listening (last one not guaranteed).

For those looking to get technical, these chords incorporate the root, major third, perfect fifth, and a flattened seventh. It’s like having a full band in the palm of your hand.

Excited? You should be. Here come the chords that make all the difference in blues…

3 Essential Blues Chords (these are like oxygen for blues guitar)

Alright, let’s cut to the chase. You’re here because you want to dominate those blues guitar chords, not just play them. You’re not the kind of guy who’s content with just strumming away in the corner; you want to be the one making the strings sing with soul. So, buckle up as we introduce you to the big three: E7, A7, and B7 – the power trio of the blues world.

The Almighty E7

displays how E7 chord is played on guitar

First up, the E7, otherwise known as “that chord that makes you feel like a blues legend.” It’s as essential as your morning coffee. To play the E7, you’re going to want to put your first finger on the 1st fret of the G string, your second finger on the 2nd fret of the A string leaving all the other strings to ring out like freedom. This chord has a habit of popping up in blues progressions like a good friend who’s always there when you need them.

For a step-by-step guide to mastering this chord, along with some useful tablature, check out blues guitar for beginners.

The Adaptable A7

displays how A7 chord is played on guitar

Next, meet the A7 – the chameleon of blues chords. It’s versatile, it’s adaptable, and it’s got your back whether you’re playing a slow burner or an upbeat shuffle. Get your first finger on the 2st fret of the D string and your second finger on the 2nd fret of the B string. Let the other strings strum freely, and voilà, you’ve got yourself a chord that’s as reliable as possible.

The Bold B7

displays B7 Guitar Chord Chart

Last but definitely not least is the B7, the bold and brash brother in the blues family. It’s the chord that’ll make your listeners sit up and pay attention – no scams here, just pure bluesy authenticity. You’ll be placing your first finger on the 1st fret of the D string, your second finger on the 2nd fret of the A string, and your third finger on the 2nd fret of the G string, and finally your pinky on the 2nd fret of the high E string. Let the B string resonate open and don’t play the low E at all.

Congratz! You’ve got yourself a chord that’ll carry your blues all the way to the back of the room.

ChordFinger PositionsOpen Strings
E7G1, A2High E
A7D2, B2High E, A
B7 A2, D1, G2, E2G, B

Now that you’re armed with these chords, it’s time to put them into action. Dive into some blues guitar backing tracks to practice your transitions and feel the groove. And when you’re ready to add to your arsenal, check out blues guitar scales for those lead lines that’ll have you feeling like the blues boss you are.

You are equipped with 3 most powerful chord-based weapons in blues. Let’s now learn how to use them.

Mastering the 12-Bar Progression

In the realm of blues guitar, the 12-bar progression is the thing. So, grab your guitar, and let’s dive into the anatomy of this iconic progression and spin it with some variations.

Anatomy of a Blues Progression

The 12-bar blues is as essential to blues guitarists as a solid pair of jeans is to your wardrobe – timeless and versatile. It’s a chord progression that’s been the backbone of countless blues classics. In its most basic form, the progression uses just three chords: the I, IV, and V chords (Rock Guitar Universe). These are typically played as dominant 7th chords, giving that gritty, down-to-earth feel that blues is all about.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the 12-bar blues structure:

BarChord TypeExample in Key of E
1-4I ChordE7
5-6IV ChordA7
7-8I ChordE7
9V ChordB7
10IV ChordA7
11I ChordE7
12V ChordB7 (or turnaround to go back to the top)

This structure is your bread and butter, the framework you can build on to create your own bluesy masterpiece. And, just like switching up your workout can bring better results, adding variations to your 12-bar progression can really make your sound pop.

Variations on a Bluesy Theme

Now, who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Let’s throw in some variations to keep things interesting. You can substitute chords, add a quick change, or throw in a turnaround to give your progression a unique twist. It’s like swapping out your usual side of potato fries to sweet potato ones – a tasty yet satisfying choice.

One popular variation is the “quick change,” where you switch to the IV chord in the second bar and then back to the I chord in the third. It’s a little like hitting the gas pedal as you cruise down the highway – it adds a kick to the ride.

Another variation is adding a II chord before the V chord in the final two bars for a bit of a detour that keeps your listeners on their toes. This could look something like:

BarChord Type
1-4Standard
5-6Standard
7-8Standard
9-10Standard
11II Chord
12V Chord

And don’t forget about turnarounds – those nifty little riffs or chord progressions that lead you back to the top of the 12 bars. They’re like the cherry on top of your sundae. Just find some slick blues guitar riffs to cap off your progression.

Now you got the tools and how to use them. With only these, you can do some serious damage. But I want to help you be even better. Let’s…

Expanding Your Blues Repertoire

It’s time to expand that repertoire and sprinkle in some magic that’ll make your dog howl along in sheer delight.

Beyond the Basics

Bored of the same old I-IV-V progression? It’s time to shake things up a bit. How about we throw in some chord substitutions to keep your audience, and maybe even your wife, guessing? Instead of the usual B7, why not try a Bb7 for size? It’s like adding some chili to your grandma’s chicken soup—just enough to add some interest without setting your mouth on fire.

And hey, let’s not forget those dominant 7th chords that give the blues its soulful twang. The tension they add just begs for resolution, and when it hits that major chord, it’s sweeter than a guilt-free cheat day.

Chord Substitutions and Tricks

Now, for the tricks up your sleeve. The minor pentatonic scale is your trusty sidekick, ready to swoop in and save the day. It’s simple, it’s versatile, and it fits over those dominant 7th chords like a glove.

Ever tried using open chords to let your guitar breathe a bit? E and A chords can create a more open and resonant sound, giving your blues a fresh, airy vibe that’s as refreshing as morning air.

And for those of you who like to live life in the fast lane, spice up that 12-bar progression by letting the V chord take the wheel for an extra measure. Or if you’re more of the slow and steady type, add more chord changes in the last couple of measures to give your tune a twist (Andy LeMaire).

Don’t be shy to check out some blues guitar backing tracks to practice these new tricks. They’re like having a band in your living room, minus the mess real band would make.

Now you have the tools, you can be dangerous with them, and you can add extra sauce. Last thing I’ll give you is some practice goodies so that you can make every second of your practice count.

Practice Tips for Progress

Mastering chord changes and even faster blues slicks is all about this baby…

Building Muscle Memory

First things first, let’s talk about muscle memory. It’s the thing that can make your fingers fly across the fretboard without your brain having to break a sweat. Think of a baby learning a walk…first it looks like that the kiddo shouldn’t even try. So clumsy. But with patience and repetition, newborn turns into a toddler in no time. Soon the kiddo runs faster than you!

This, you want to with guitar. It might seem awkward at first. You might want to just quit and go back to playing 4 pop chords and Smoke on The Water. But when you put the reps in, you will be smooth in no time.

Here’s a simple table to turn those blues chords into second nature:

ActivityDurationFocus
Warm-Up5 minsLoosen up those digits with some finger exercises
Chord Practice10 minsCycle through the blues guitar chords – A7, D7, E7 (maybe with some backing tracks)
Progression Practice10 minsNail that 12-bar progression using the chords
Cool Down5 minsStretch and give your hands a well-deserved break

Repeat this routine daily, and before you know it, you’ll be playing those blues chords in your sleep (give earplugs to your wife as an early anniversary gift). And don’t forget to check out some blues guitar lessons for more structured practice.

Combining Strumming and Picking

Warning. Even thought this is simple, this combination can leave your audience wowing.

  • Strumming gives you that full, rich sound.
  • While picking allows you to add some texture and personality to your playing.

Here’s how you can blend them to get those bluesy vibes flowing:

  1. Start with a simple strum pattern. Let’s say a down-down-up-down-up rhythm.
  2. Now, choose a blues chord, like the almighty E7. Strum it using the pattern above.
  3. On the next pass, instead of strumming, pick out individual strings. Aim for the bass note of the chord, then a couple of the higher strings.
  4. Alternate between strumming the chord and picking the strings in rhythm.
  5. Experiment in order to make this sound good

Remember, it’s not about speed – it’s about control, timing, and feeling the groove. Like savoring a fine whiskey, take it slow and enjoy each note. And if you need a backing track to practice with, swing by the blues guitar backing tracks to find your groove.

Keep at it, and before long, you’ll be the one your friends talk about when they say, “You gotta hear this guy play the blues!” Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t click right away. Even the greatest blues guitarists had to start somewhere – and none of them had the advantage of us from GND helping you out.

So, with your trusty guitar, a bit of patience, and hard work (and a sprinkle of humor) you’ll do amazing.

You have gotten plenty from this article. But let’s just quikcly make sure that your amp can sing the blues while you play it.

Amp Settings for Blues Tone

Let’s talk about getting that gritty, growling tone that makes the blues, well, the blues. You don’t need a PhD in knob-twiddling, just a few tweaks here and there.

Opinions on right settings will wary from player to player and amp to amp. but here’s a basic recipe to get you started:

KnobSetting
Bass4-6
Mid5-7
Treble5-7
Gain3-5
Reverb2-4

These settings aren’t set in stone. Twist and shout (or rather, twist and listen) until you find that sweet spot. Blues is all about feeling, so if your gut tells you to crank that bass up and make the windows shake, who are we to argue?

Conclusion

So grab your guitar, dial in that tone, and start belting out some blues. It was fun to hang out, have a great day and see ya soon!

Teemu Suomala

I first grabbed the guitar in 2009. I started this website in January 2020 because I couldn’t do window installation anymore due to my health problems. I also noticed that most guitar websites don’t do a really good job, so I decided to just go for it! I got lucky and managed to get awesome people to help me with my website. I also got lucky because I have you visiting my website right now. Thank you. I do all this for you guys. If you have any recommendations, tips, or feedback, just leave a comment, I would love to chat with you. I have been fortunate to produce content for several large guitar websites, such as Songsterr, Musicnotes, GuitarGuitar, and Ultimate Guitar. I spend my spare time exercising and hanging out with my wife and crazy dog(I guess that went the right way…). Expertise: guitar learning techniques, electric guitars, and guitar amplifiers. You can connect with me on LinkedIn or just email me.
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